Category Archives: Survival Guide

Will God Protect Us? On Listening, Asking, and Trusting

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When I think about God as a protector, I want someone who will shield me from the hardships of life. I want him to protect me from flat tires, heartbreak, cancer, persecution, and, just being painfully honest here, the Tea Party.

It’s tempting to read the verses in the Bible of God as a protector with a kind of absolute interpretation—applying these verses to myself directly as true for all times and places. If I read about God as a shield, I want him to be a shield in all situations.

Such a line of interpretation is tough to sort out. In one sense, we’ll never know how many times God actually protected us. However, in a world with free will to one degree or another, we can’t get around the fact that hardships await us—Jesus promised us as much.

If we want to preserve our relationships with God and avoid the crushing disappointment of misplaced expectations, it will help to examine some ways that God’s protection may work. I understand that my experiences may not be normative for everyone, nor could this post be exhaustive, so I welcome your feedback and stories in the comments.

God Guides Us

God speaks to his people who are willing to listen—Jesus said my sheep hear my voice. That doesn’t mean he reveals everything to us—not even Jesus knew when God’s Kingdom would be fully restored to earth. Nevertheless, we can benefit by the guidance and wisdom of God in certain situations. That may result in our protection and will certainly help us accomplish God’s work on earth.

God Wants Us to Ask

Jesus makes it clear that we should persistently ask God for what we need, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always ask God for what is good for us, what is realistic, or what is God’s best for us. In fact, I’ve sometimes asked God for things that weren’t good for me—things that would have only continued my dependence on idols. It is good to ask for God’s protection sometimes, but only after we have listened for God’s direction and have said, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done.”

God Does Not Follow Formulas and Incantations

Tim mentioned yesterday in a comment that there is no magic formula or prayer that binds God to act in a certain way. In addition, God’s deliverance in one situation does not mean it will be replicated. There were prophets who were both delivered from their enemies and prophets who were attacked.

God Can Protect Us

All of this points to the fact that God can protect us, but his first goal is to shape us into his chosen people who know him intimately and who can bring his Kingdom’s loving rule to earth. That means our protection is more of a by-product of God’s Kingdom coming than a perk we get in return for our allegiance. The more we embrace the Kingdom, the more we can enjoy the healing and restoration it brings, even if we may face trials and hardships at the same time. 

God Can Use Hardships

This sounds like a terrible Christian cliché, but I’m pretty sure I can say that each hardship in my life has been used by God in one way or another to help someone else or to draw myself and others closer to himself. Perhaps this is because pain shocks us out of our routines and forces us to encounter God in fresh ways, breaking the hold of bad habits or false perceptions.

God’s Perspective on Tragedy is Different from Our Own

As much as I like the idea of the world having an Ed Cyzewski around, the reality I’ve had to confront is that God has work for me to accomplish, I need to seek him and his Kingdom first (asking God what I can do for him), and then God will call me to himself when my time is up. Paul writes about being absent from the body and present with God, which certainly makes death seem more like a transition into something better than the end of something good.

In fact, I’ve had to accept that God’s perception of pain and tragedy is a bit different from my own. While the Bible consistently reveals God as compassionate and mourning with us, he also sees the many good things that we cannot. I want God to give me a long life, but then again, I’m here to love God first and foremost. If my purpose in life is to love God, then it’s not exactly a tragedy if I leave this world to be with him.

God’s Ways are Hard to Understand

We’ll never really know how free will and God’s sovereignty work. The Bible offers us glimpses of both at work. I don’t know why certain prayers are answered and others are not. I don’t know how God’s protection works. One friend of mine asked whether God even protects us in the first place. Perhaps that’s a matter of perspective. I don’t know. Any time we try to say, “I know God is just like this…” I get nervous.

At best we have approximations and informed opinions based on scripture, tradition, and experience.

We know that God wants us to pray, to ask for things, and to trust him as our shield. It sure seems like he wants us to trust him for his protection, but not before we’ve sought him out and made his Kingdom our primary concern.

I think that’s why folks with Stephen, Paul, Aquilla, and Priscilla were able to face mobs and executioners. They saw God as their mighty deliverer and protector, but they also understood that they needed to lay their lives on the line for his Kingdom and not count their lives as anything worth protecting. The Kingdom came first, God’s protection either followed or didn’t follow.

However, in a more eternal sense, God does protect and deliver his people from sin and the power of death. That is the ultimate victory.

Shane Claiborn writes that the beauty of Christianity is that even if we are killed, God will resurrect us. In a sense, God’s people are unstoppable. Even in the seeming loss of death, we’ve actually taken another step toward our victory.

What This Means for Us

There is a lot at stake when we pray. We have very good reason to listen, to wait on God. If we want to ask for God’s protection, we’d better make sure we’re on the same page as God, moving in step with his Kingdom.

We can misunderstand and misrepresent God if we always expect him to deliver us from pain or hardship or if we always expect him to answer our prayers precisely. It’s far more important to seek his Kingdom and his Spirit’s leading voice. That will lead us to safety and security in him, even if our life circumstances seem anything but safe.

For those seeking first God’s Kingdom, Jesus promises trials and hardships, but he also promises healing, protection, restoration, and provision. Until we wrap our minds around what God’s Kingdom means for us, we’ll probably never quite understand what that healing, protection, restoration, or provision will look like.

Will God Protect Us? Learning to Lay Down Our Lives

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Before a big road trip a few years back, I was asking God to protect us. While praying, I was reminded of people I know who have been in car accidents and then thought of Christians throughout the world who have been harmed in one way or another.

The more you think about it, the more you realize that there are Christians who die in car accidents, die from cancer, or die as martyrs daily. There are Christians who are injured, abused, and slandered.

I hit a place in my Christian walk where I asked God something like the following:

“So you mean to tell me that I have to surrender my life and carry my cross, but I don’t have a guarantee that you’ll always protect me?”

That sounds  little silly in retrospect. I mean, of course we’ll all pass away at some point. However, I used to think that in letting go of my life that God would take care of it in the same way I would.

It was like trusting God to a certain point, but still wanting to have my way. I didn’t understand why the cross didn’t come with a pillow or a strap for easier carrying.

That forced me to rethink discipleship, what it means to lay down my life like Christ, and what to expect from God.

In the book of Hebrews we read about followers of God who were both delivered from evil and who suffered despite being righteous. In other words, we just don’t know what God’s plans or purposes are, and he will either protect us or give us the ability to endure the hardships that come our way.

In addition, if I’m still asking God to give me smooth sailing in this world, then I probably haven’t learned to let go of my life and my plans for the sake of him and his Kingdom. I probably have a much stronger hold on this world than I would expect.

Tomorrow’s Post: What does it look like to let go of this world?

Why is God Distant Sometimes? Part 3-Drawing Near

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When I’ve felt most distant from God, God has eventually drawn me near again. The time I’ve spent feeling far away from God and unable to hear his voice has been difficult and uncomfortable. I have no idea why it happened sometimes.

On several occasions God overcame my doubts and fears by sending someone to pray over me. Something spiritual snapped, and I reached a new place in my spiritual walk.

Within a few months I had plenty of new problems. Thankfully God is able to draw us near to himself in several ways, the ones I know from personal experience are included below:

Confess Sins

We could say a lot about the theology behind sin and obedience, but I find it most helpful to think of sin as a matter of direction. That’s how Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom—either we’re entering it or we’re not. Are we moving toward God or away from him?

If we are sinning, we are moving away from God and will be unable to draw near to God. The laws of the Old Testament are among our many clues that God desires to have fellowship with us, but we must be holy and obedient. We show our love through obedience, and our obedience is sparked by our love.

Receive Prayer

Sometimes we need a friend to help us break through to the place where God wants us to be. I have found this to be particularly true in my own experience since it can be hard to get somewhere I’ve never been. When a fellow believer who knows where I’m coming from and where I need to go prayed for me, God moved me to a new place of freedom.

Whenever the Gospel spread, there is a clear precedent in the New Testament for believers to pray for one another, especially those who are new to the faith. I’ve found that the same principle sometimes applies when we need God to lead us out of a rut or into a deeper aspect of the spiritual life.

Wait in Faith

Yesterday we talked about letting go of our expectations, but there’s a balance to aim for here. While we don’t define how God will act, we should certainly expect to meet with him in some way.

I’ve often found that when I sit down and ask God to guide me, he’ll direct me to worship him.  I may not find the exact answer I’m looking for that day, but the important thing is to remain in Christ, our life-giving vine. We may have to wait a while before we experience God in the ways we’re looking for, but God desires to meet with his people. He will not abandon us.

How do you hear from God?

What’s your experience in breaking through a tough time when you couldn’t hear God?

Why God is Distant Sometimes: Part 2-Making Things Worse

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Distance from God because of sin is bad enough without making up more sins, guilt, and despair on our own. Sin certainly creates a distance between us and God, but we don’t necessarily need sin to do that. We can handle that quite well on our own.

That isn’t to say that we are at fault whenever we feel distant from God. However, it will help us to eliminate some possibilities when we sense we are far from God.

Some struggle with this more than others, but here are a few ways we can isolate ourselves from God:

Expectations

I’ve expected God to show up for me in a particular way, and then felt disappointed when he didn’t. After seeing God show up for someone else or even revealing himself to me in the past, I’ve expected God to keep revealing himself in the same way.

Sometimes the Jewish leaders asked Jesus to show them a particular sign or miracle so that they could believe, but Jesus didn’t always give them what they asked for or expected. God defines the time, place, and means of his revelation. Our place is one of attention and awareness to him so that we’re ready to receive him when he shows up.

Moses didn’t expect to find God in a burning bush.

Guilt

We can feel bad in general when God doesn’t show up in the ways we expect or because we don’t have a certain kind of spiritual life. While Godly sorrow leads us to repentance and restoration, it’s possible to just feel bad and inadequate on an ongoing basis.

Guilt can creep in when we compare ourselves to others and minimize what God is doing in our own lives. If guilt is keeping you from God, then you can rest assured that it needs to be surrendered. We can use guilt as a crutch, “I’m a bad Christian, but so long as I feel guilty about it, I’m OK.”

God intends his people to be free from guilt, able to enjoy his presence with freedom.

Tomorrow’s Post: Drawing Near to God

Why is God Distant Sometimes? Part 1-The Problem

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Can you imagine the disciples signing up to follow Jesus, but then Jesus drops a thick scroll in their laps and wanders away? That’s how Christianity feels to me sometimes.

Christians have committed themselves to following Jesus, but then they’re handed this thick Bible and need to figure God out by thumbing through it. Who said that Christianity had homework?

And so we dig into the stories and hope that we’ll feel something, wondering what Christianity is all about. Is the deity in the Bible supposed to match the deity we experience today?

When praying we may feel discouraged because it seems like we’re just talking into the air. Where is God? What is the Holy Spirit up to?

When I read the Bible, I keep bumping into promises for abundance like a bubbling stream, for deserts turning into well-watered farms. We’re promised that God is seeking us, placing us where we are so that we can find him. Why does it feel like God is so hard to find if he’s actually reaching out to us, seeking those who are seeking him?

While I’m committed to studying the Bible and to persevering in prayer even when I don’t feel particularly spiritual, I want to know why God feels distant sometimes—perhaps he feels distant all of the time for some of us.

I’ve met Christians who seem to have a direct line to God. Other Christians have struggled through dark nights of the soul where there’s a long-term heavenly radio silence. What’s normal? What’s wrong, if anything?

We touched on this topic last week at small group, and the more I discuss it with fellow believers, I’m convinced that this is a complex issue that often defies one-size-fits-all answers. Having said that, the solution may not be as far away as we suspect. In fact, what we suspect may be a large part of the problem, but that’s for the next post.

As we dig into this topic, I’d like to look at the ways we can make things worse and then how we can take positive steps forward in our relationship with God, particularly in our prayer lives.

The Next Post: How We Make Things Worse.

Christians Survive by Running to Win

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When playing baseball in Jr. High, I used to watch with relief when a ground ball streaked toward shortstop or a fly ball soared into right field. So long as I didn’t have to deal with it at second base.

If I didn’t make any errors and at least hit the ball once, I could usually go home happy.

This is not the attitude you want if you plan on actually winning a game.

While the members of a youth baseball team can coast through a season within thinly veiled disinterest, the stakes change significantly when we start dealing with the Christian life. In fact, half-hearted interest is a huge problem.

Paul speaks of the Christian pursuit of God as something we throw ourselves into with complete devotion, straining to win. We aren’t just in the race. Being in the race as a Christian won’t do much for us.

In fact, if we aren’t actively trying to win the race, we may be in trouble.

We need to be careful that we don’t allow the results or numbers focus of the business-world to influence us. We don’t have to freak out about bringing verifiable data to God. A PowerPoint presentation of our quarterly spiritual growth and progress is not required. 

I have the sense that God is searching for people who are deeply committed to him. That means besides believing in him, we are reordering our lives in the short and long term around him.

God is looking for commitment on par with Rocky: rising early for an egg drink, charging up the Philly art museum steps, and pounding hunks of meat at the local packing plant. His life revolved around his goal. I doubt anyone would punch meat for the fun of it.

Our time in the car, waiting in line, or lying in bed before falling asleep are all opportunities to draw near to God. We can find moments to advance throughout our day, and other times we’ll need to change our schedules in order to make God our top priority.

Drawing near to God is our goal. 

If we aren’t making progress toward giving ourselves completely to God, we are in danger of being distracted by an unhealthy focus on things such as money, sex, power, or listless amusement. That isn’t to say we can’t have those things in their proper place. However, if we aren’t moving toward God, we run the risk of being pushed away from God.

I see the Christian life as this ongoing process where we’re continually learning to surrender more and more of ourselves to God. We don’t arrive at a place of complete surrender or deep holiness overnight. It’s a long-term training process with some short term rewards leading to the greatest reward at the end.

Ask God where you should begin.

I started swimming laps back in November. It was more like splashing a lot and drowning a little. I needed lots of breaks, and I couldn’t do the freestyle/crawl stroke too much. I mixed all of these made-up strokes together. A few months later I still struggle to keep a fast pace during my laps—“no pain” is my unofficial work out motto—but I can swim relatively well for 30 minutes with a few breaks.

Training myself to exercise regularly has been a difficult process, but it’s paying off in the short and long term with better health, less stress, and sound sleep. Those rewards were not apparent at the beginning, and there were moments of frustration, but winning the mental battle of the first few swims was the worst of it.

God can help you ask those first questions, take those first steps, and sort out what needs to change. God wants to be found—at least eventually. Finding God may not be easy sometimes, but I’ve often found that those times of waiting and uncertainty were generally part of him breaking down unhealthy patterns in my life or teaching me something I’m not expecting.

God wants us to thrive, experiencing the full peace and joy that he gives us. If we want those things too, we won’t find them by doing the bare minimum.

Christian Survival Does Not Happen by Accident

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During our honeymoon I was terrified of being attacked by bears. Well, just for part of it at least. And really, the bears weren’t really after me, just the food in my backpack. The biggest problem with the bears was my silence.

I never told Julie, “I’m afraid of bears mauling me.”

We had a week at a lake house in the Adirondacks for our honeymoon, but for one night Julie wanted to go backpacking around Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York state—yes, there is more to New York than that city. I packed my bag, but remained uneasy. I was new to this concept of hauling forty pounds around in the woods.

Julie knew I was a rookie, and she worked really hard to make it an enjoyable experience. However, she didn’t realize my nervous silence was the result of visions of bears running me down and pouncing on me. She planned out all kinds of fun food to bring along and tried to encourage me with the promise of a nice hot breakfast.

She even told me “funny” stories about the time that a bear found their food bag up in a tree and tore into the tin cans, leaving them a tangled mess on the ground. That made me feel even better…

The more she talked about the great food we were bringing, the more I thought of bears leaping onto me from behind trees.

Thankfully, my wife wasn’t naïve about the wiles of bears. She brought rope along so that we could hang our bag over a stream along with the other campers who thought it was hilarious to play this game of hide and seek with large, powerful creatures that could tear a person apart with their claws and vicious teeth.

Our food bag remained safe over the stream. We were unharmed in our tent. Our day hike the next day passed with many mentions of bears by amused hikers but no sightings. My wife was prepared, and we were safe.

After that trip, I finally voiced my fears of the bears, and Julie finally understood why I’d been acting so strange. She’d taken all the proper precautions for the bears. Generally speaking, we’d have only been in trouble if we separated a mother from her cub or if we used our food bags as pillows.

My fear did nothing to help us. My wife’s preparation had everything to do with the safety of our camping trip.

Christian Survival

A friend once asked, “Who is the spiritual leader for Christians today?” I didn’t really know for sure, but he suggested Eugene Peterson, the long-time pastor and translator of THE MESSAGE.  Peterson had spent a lot of time meditating on scripture and putting it into practice throughout his lifetime of ministry.

The spiritual statue of a Christian such as Peterson is not an accident. Peterson has invested untold hours in spiritual preparation.

I had a revelation a little while ago when I felt frustrated and spiritually stuck. I wanted to know why I wasn’t progressing in my Christian walk, just hardly getting by. The answer? I wasn’t preparing myself to thrive, let alone survive.

Survival is not an accident. We don’t rise to spiritual maturity by mistake. We don’t stay on the path of discipleship by just hanging on. Survival as a Christian requires preparation.

Tomorrow’s Post: Christian Survival: Do we know what’s at stake?